For Once, I Agree With Him: Andrew Sullivan On Christ vs Muhammed

Ages ago, Andrew Sullivan posted a link to this blog (mysteriously), and I got more hits in one day than I had in the previous year. Ever since then, I have been trying to find a way to repay the kindness by linking to something he had written. But it is hard, so hard, when we have so few points of agreement.

Finally, he posted something I can agree with:

I wonder if Tamerlan Tsarnaev or Richard Reid believed that Muhammed has little to do with Islam. I’m not talking about an intellectual grasp of theological nuances. I’m talking about a text that, unlike the Gospels, is asserted to have been directly given by God through Muhammed with no human intervention or error. And I’m talking about a religious genius who wielded temporal power from the get-go. Jesus accepted powerlessness in the face of Roman imperialism. Muhammed? As Khan notes,

Muhammad was his own Constantine. That is, he was not simply a spiritual teacher, but also a temporal ruler. More broadly, while Christianity became an imperial religion, Islam was born an imperial religion.

And it seems strange to me that that early, critical fact has not had an impact on Christianity’s eventual ability to disentangle itself from worldly territorial power and on Islam’s inability to do so. Jesus allowed himself to be crucified by power. Muhammed was an expansionist conqueror, who waged war for territory. I do not believe, as Khan does, that those two facts are irrelevant to the manifestations of Christianity and Islam today – especially in their compatibility with secular government.

Indeed. Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Meanwhile, Muhammed used the sword–and only the sword–to spread his message. At heart, government is an instrument of power over people, functioning very much as a sword, compelling their obedience. It is only natural, then, that Islam would continue to seek to use war and government to spread its message, while Christianity finds such means of propagating the Gospel inimical to the very message being propagated. Christianity simply cannot be rightly manifested in the context of temporal power, while on the other hand this is apparently the only way Islam can be manifested.

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